Conference encourages, equips small membership churches

Robert Foster of Williams Baptist University speaks during EQUIP: SMC on Feb. 4.

WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – First Baptist Church in Corning Pastor Bart Baker said he’s always looking for opportunities to learn and sharpen the tools in his belt for ministry. 

Most recently, Baker attended EQUIP: SMC, a one-day conference designed to encourage and equip those serving in smaller membership churches, at Williams Baptist University.  

Baker was one of 14 pastors to attend the conference on Feb. 4 in northeast Arkansas. There were 31 people total, including ministers’ wives and instructors.  

“They all have experience that they are sharing and I’m just learning from their experience,” said Baker, who has served as a pastor for more than 20 years throughout Arkansas.  

The pastors and their wives were given the opportunity to fellowship and talk life and ministry with those serving in a similar context, which can be encouraging. Couple that with practical and insightful teaching and that’s the aim of EQUIP: SMC. 

“Equip is basically what we are attempting to do,” said Bob Johnson, association missionary liaison and Sunday school consultant at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. 

Small membership churches make up about 80% of the churches in Arkansas.  Whether full-time, bi-vocational or volunteer, the small membership church ministry has many unique and challenging demands. EQUIP: SMC simply aims to further equip and encourage those serving in SMC ministry.  

An instructor of one of the conference’s four sessions, Johnson talked with the pastors about “Conflict in the Local Church.”   

The three other sessions were “A Process for Applying a Christian Worldview to Modern Issues” and “Transgender Identities as a Case Study” by Dr. Alan Branch of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and “Holiday Sermons” by Robert Foster of Williams Baptist University.  

Johnson said the sessions of the annual conference typically focus on subjects to help the pastors navigate whatever may be happening in their church. Topics range from sermon prep and pastoral care to counseling and worship and usually include one or two subjects requested by the pastors.  

For instance, this time, Johnson said the pastors asked for sessions on conflict mediation and sermon scheduling.  

While the pastors were in sessions, their wives were led in a Bible study, “God’s Provision in Elijah Moments,” and roundtable discussions by Vickie Lee, wife of Ricky Lee, pastor at First Baptist Church in Sherwood.   

Johnson said they’ve heard nothing but positive feedback concerning the content and the fellowship of people that came.  

“It went really well,” he said.  

This was the eighth year for EQUIP: SMC in Walnut Ridge. Last year, Johnson said they introduced the conference in other regions of the state. That’s the plan this year as well.  

The next EQUIP: SMC will be April 22 in Arkadelphia.  

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